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Everyone has their "match made in heaven" wish list combining developers with IPs. For many fighting fans, the top of that list would pair Dragon Ball, an over-the-top action series, with the team at Arc System Works, known for creating some of the best over-the-top brawlers on the market. Dragon Ball FigherZ finally brings that pairing together on consoles, and it has truly turned out to be a perfect combination.
A couple of years back, Arc System Works developed Dragon Ball: Extreme Butoden for the Nintendo 3DS. It was a pretty great fighting game, hampered a bit by its platform. Looking back, it seems pretty clear that Extreme Butoden was a trial run for what would evolve into FighterZ. It offers the same 3v3 fighting format, complete with assist abilities. The 3DS game also boasted a simple combo system that made it easy for newcomers to jump in and have a good time, something I'm happy to report has survived the transition to home consoles. But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself. The point is that, while playing Extreme Butoden, I found myself frequently thinking, "Man, this would be great if it was beefed up a bit and launched on consoles." And that's exactly what's on offer in FighterZ.
From its eye-bleedingly gorgeous animations to its fast and frantic fisticuffs, FighterZ is pretty much every DBZ fan's fighting dream come true. It's a full package, boasting plenty of play modes, a lengthy campaign and loads of fan service.
When you first boot up the game, you'll be introduced to FighterZ's hub world, which also serves as its menu. You can ignore all of the silly frills and just jump to your desired destination but, for folks willing to have a bit of fun between activities, running around can be a nice distraction.
In the hub, players will play as chibi versions of Dragon Ball characters. The hub is broken into several sections, each representing activities such as the Story Mode, online matches, local competitions, a replay viewer and more. There's also a store where you can spend in-game currency on loot drops, but don't let that discourage you. There's (currently) no way to buy anything with real-world money, and it's treated as a slightly flashier unlock system you'd expect to see in any other fighting game. Play a few matches to earn coins, then spend those coins on drops that include things like color swaps, new menu characters, emotes, profile backgrounds, titles, etc. I'm only giving this randomized unlock system so much ink because, nowadays, folks are understandably wary of unlockables. Unless something sketchy gets dropped in later, the whole process is perfectly inoffensive in FighterZ.
And you'll actually want to customize all of that jibba-jabba, as folks who choose to play online will be able to jump into hubs with around 60 other players. You can make new friends, join the ongoing chats, set up tournaments or challenge randos to combat. It's a great way to make players feel like they are part of a bigger community while still presenting it in a way that can be totally ignored, if that's the way you prefer to roll.
All of the modes you would expect out of a modern fighting game are present and accounted for, including deep tutorials, combo challenges and an Arcade Mode that has you moving up a diverging set of tiers depending on how well you do in each match. There are also plenty of options for you to tweak to create your ideal fighting experience, including full Japanese or English voice acting for all characters.
If you've got about a dozen hours to spare, there's a fun Story Mode fans of the series are sure to enjoy, too. The story isn't all that deep and quite a number of the matches feel like padding, but the scenes are entertaining and, again, full of nods to DBZ, and _DB Super-_fans will appreciate.
The player wakes up in control of Goku, who finds himself knocked unconscious after a bunch of evil clones of legendary fighters start popping up all over the world. In a rather clever twist, the narrative actually acknowledges the existence of the player, who provides a reason as to why these various warriors, in teams of three, must fight one at a time.
Your job through the first story arc is to figure out who is behind these evil clones and put a stop to their treachery. A second story arc focuses on the villains of the Dragon Ball series, while a third arc focuses on the villains of this particular game. There's not much to spoil but, still, I'll let you uncover the finer details by playing through the campaign.
ASW has once again crafted a fighting engine that's easy to pick up, but difficult to master. All of the characters control with the same inputs, none of which are more difficult than a quarter rotation of the joystick combined with a button press. There's also an easy combo system, allowing players to execute flashy, though moderately weak, attacks by simply stringing together taps of an attack button. Folks who prefer memorizing half a dozen unique inputs for their preferred fighters might find this a bit disappointing, but the flip side is that it makes FighterZ a very accessible entry for newcomers.
Thankfully, there are a lot of extra tools in the box that make FighterZ perfect for more dedicated players, too. Again, this is a 3v3 affair, so choosing teams with assists that complement each other is a fun exercise in and of itself. The weak, medium and strong attack buttons are complemented by a button dedicated to special moves, usually ki blasts and the like. You've also got a homing dash at your disposal, which can be used to break through the shell of a guarding opponent, and most characters have the ability to teleport short distances. There are also a collection of unique abilities for each member of the 24-strong roster, with a couple of super moves available for piling on the hurt. Stir all of that into the bowl and throw in some well-timed assists and swaps, and you've got a 2D fighter that plays out just like the beloved anime.
There's no way to properly describe the intense carnage that can unfold on-screen during these matches. It's something you just have to see for yourself. There are plenty of combos and abilities that temporarily transform the action to 2.5D animations, as well as all sorts of added touches that really make the game feel like the anime. Beat an opponent with a move that sends them flying and you might trigger an arena switch or watch as they go hurtling into the background to collide with a mountain. Destructive finishes add a nice exclamation point to showdowns, while certain conclusions combining certain characters on certain stages even trigger unique end-of-fight scenes.
It's clear that Arc System Works has a lot of love for the Dragon Ball universe, something they poured into every corner of FighterZ. It has been a banner year for fantastic fighting games, and this latest addition to the roster might prove to be my favorite yet. You need to be a fan of the source material to get the most out of all the in-jokes and references, but it's certainly not necessary for enjoying an extremely solid fighter.
If you've been waiting for that next great Dragon Ball fighting game, FighterZ delivers on pretty much every front.
This review based on a PlayStation 4 download provided by the publisher.